Lords Amendment: No. 2, in page 5, line 23, at end insert:
( ) In section 23(7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1949, as amended by paragraph 7(2) of the Seventh Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1958. the words ' rural district' shall be omitted.
§ The object of the Amendment is to provide for postal voting at rural district council elections. The Representation of the People Act, 1949, as amended, provides for postal voting to be allowed at all local government elections except, in England and Wales, elections of rural district, rural borough and parish councillors. The Amendment achieves its object by removing elections of rural district councillors from the exceptions named in Section 23 (7). It would have, by virtue of Section 23 (3), the effect of making it possible for qualified civilians to vote by proxy at those elections.
§ We had a great deal of discussion about this in Committee. The hon. Members for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) and Petersfield (Miss Quennell) pressed their points in varying degrees and with varying interpretations of what should be done. I was pretty firm that nothing could be done, but we have listened very carefully in another place and to the Rural District Councils Association, and there is no doubt in my mind now that this amendment is sensible.
§ I do not want to be out of order, but I have been advised very firmly that this could not be extended to parish councils. I thought, "Having gone so far, why not go the whole way?"1823
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
When a similar Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) it received support from both sides. The main difficulty the Government foresaw then was that of administration, but the Amendment has now had the full support of the Rural District Councils Association, and I am and the House are grateful to the Minister for accepting the Lords Amendment. I think that he is right not to go any further, but this will no doubt be of considerable advantage in rural district council elections.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I too would like to say a word of thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for the careful consideration he has given the matter since we raised it in Committee and since further discussions in another place. I am glad that the advice of the Rural District Councils Association has been taken by the Home Office.
I thought that the case made in Committee was strong, but I understood that there were stronger practical objections, and I thought that we would have to wait until the Royal Commission on Local Government in England and Wales had reported before arriving at a solution. It is therefore with particular pleasure that I find that the Home Office has been able to accept the Amendment.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) about going further. I would have liked to go a little further for the sake of tidiness, but since you have ruled that we cannot discuss that point, Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. Speaker
As the point is an important one, perhaps I had better rule very clearly. Erskine May states, at page 577:According to a long-established rule, the Commons, when considering Lords Amendments, may not leave out or otherwise amend anything which they have already passed themselves, unless such amendment be immediately consequent upon the acceptance or rejection of an Amendment made by the Lords.That is why I ruled the Minister to be perfectly out of order when he referred to parish councils.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I should have consulted Erskine May before tabling my Amendments, Mr. Speaker.
1824 I shall confine my very short remarks to the question of the rural district councils. It had always seemed to me an anomaly that electors could vote by post in the case of urban district councils, which by their very nature are more geographically concentrated, whereas they could not do so in rural districts and elections, where the need might be much greater, particularly for those who find it difficult to get to the polling station because of infirmity. The Amendment considerably improves the position for all those who live in remote areas and places where the unwell or infirm electors would otherwise be disenfranchised, as they have been ever since the 1949 Act. It is a minor but very useful Amendment.
§ Question put and agreed to.